It had been almost 20 years to the day since North Crowley had won the Class 4A Division 1 state championship and the Panthers were hoping to make it back to the state title game.
But on Saturday at Mesquite Memorial Stadium the Panthers ran into a bigger, badder cat.
Running back Caden Durham rushed for 224 yards and scored five touchdowns as the Duncanville Panthers ran away with a 52-10 win over North Crowley in the Class 6A Division 1 state semifinals.
Duncanville (13-1), No. 5 in the final Class 6A state poll, will advance to its fifth state title game in six seasons and will face a familiar foe. Top-ranked Houston North Shore defeated No. 3 Austin Westlake 23-14 on Saturday to set up another meeting in the championship game set for 3 p.m. next Saturday at AT&T Stadium in Arlington.
Duncanville has met North Shore (15-0) in all five of the championship games with the Mustangs winning the first three and Dunc winning last season. Duncanville also won the 5A D1 title in 1998.
“Win,” said Duncanville coach Reginald Samples when asked about playing North Shore again. “We love it. We owe them some, so win. We want to try to get it even.
“Getting this far means that it’s a payday for all the hard work. We worked our butts off to get here. Long hours, a lot of months, a lot of days and this is the culmination and we’re excited.”
“This is the sixth year in a row that they’ve been in the state semifinals so they’ve been there,” said North Crowley coach Ray Gates. “They’ve been tested and they know what it looks like. We checked a lot of boxes this year, but we left one unchecked and that’s how it is sometimes in life.
“You have to go through these situations in these moments in order to learn from these moments in these situations. It’s just another opportunity for us to learn and to grow and we’ll be better because of it.”
North Crowley overcame a catch interference penalty on the opening kickoff when a North player blasted a Duncanville return man before he had a chance to field the ball. North Crowley had to kick again from its own 25 and Ayson Theus returned it 29 yards to the NC 37.
The North defense played well in the first quarter, and had to, as Duncanville started its first three drives in North Crowley territory.
After Duncanville lost the ball on downs at the NC 26, North went three and out on its first two possessions. An 11-yard punt into a stiff north wind gave D’ville the ball at the North Crowley 39.
It took Duncanville 11 plays to cover the 39 yards with Durham, a four-star LSU commit, darting up the middle to give Dunc a 7-0 lead with 5:36 left in the first quarter.
North Crowley struggled against a rock solid Duncanville defense that’s littered with Division I college talent, especially on the defensive line. North only had three first downs in the first half and 67 total yards.
“We knew coming in that they were averaging 40-50 points per game and we weren’t going for none of that, none of that,” said Duncanville defensive lineman Colin Simmons, a five-star, University of Texas commit. “They have never faced a team like us. They have never faced a defense like us and we obviously showed them that.
““It was a huge win, over a good North Crowley team and I feel very confident going to in to state next week.”
Simmons is joined on the Duncanville defensive line by Alex January, a three-star Texas commit; Kevin Ford Jr., a four-star recruit who is the No. 1 athlete in Texas in the Class of 2026; and Javian Council.
“Their guys are really big up front and fast,” said Gates. “You really have to tip your hat to them because they did a really good job today.
“With a loss like that there’s nobody in this program that’s gonna take this loss but me. This one is on me and because of it I know I’ll be better.”
Trailing 7-0 midway through the second quarter, North Crowley had a chance to get the ball back and possibly tie the game, but Duncanville quarterback Keelon Russell, an SMU commit, completed a 37-yard pass as he was being leveled by a North Crowley lineman.
Zach Turner hauled in the pass that converted a third and 23 and three plays later Durham carried it in from 16 yards out to give Duncanville a 14-0 lead with 5:43 left in the first half.
The wheels came off for North Crowley after that. An interception by Duncanville’s Tyren Polley led to a 22-yard field goal by Jonathan Batres.
Durham took a counter play on D’ville’s next possession 23 yards to the house to make it 24-0 with 1:13 left before the intermission.
“We got into a groove in the second quarter, but the thing that we didn’t want to do is come out flat in the third quarter,” said Samples. “So we talked about not letting up at halftime and being relentless and that’s what we did.”
And they did exactly that.
After North Crowley opened the second half with a 30-yard field goal by Anthony Pope, Duncanville scored touchdowns on three consecutive drives starting at the 4:46 mark of the third quarter.
Durham had scoring runs of nine and 56 yards that were sandwiched around a TD pass from Russell to Dakorien Moore for a 43-yard touchdown making the score 45-3 at the end of the third quarter.
Russell had 141 passing yards completing 10 of 19 with six going to Moore for a game-high 93 yards.
“Our run game was just working,” said Durham, who carried 29 times for a 7.7 yards per carry average. “Trusting the offensive line and trusting the coaches that they knew what was going to be open and what wasn’t going to be open. Ready to pop.”
North Crowley got a 46-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Chris Jimerson Jr. to Quentin Gibson midway through the fourth quarter cutting the lead to 45-10. Jimerson finished hitting nine of 32 pass attempts for 145 yards.
NC had 139 yards rushing for the game on 32 attempts. Duncanville out gained North 450-284 in total yards.
“This group has been unbelievable,” said Gates. “Our senior leadership bought in and they believed in everything that we’ve asked them to do. They went to work from day one and they helped take this program to another level.”